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A Chat with Edith Maxwell

May 4, 2014

MaxwellI was delighted when Edith Maxwell agreed to chat with me about her Local Foods Mystery series (Kensington Publishing, 2013). I’m pleased to share that conversation with the readers of Birth of a Novel, but first, a little about Edith and her books. This series lets her relive her days as an organic farmer in Massachusetts, although murder in the greenhouse is new (thank goodness for that). A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die came out to critical acclaim last June. ‘Til Dirt Do Us Part, which chronicles the murder of a CSA member after geek-turned-organic-farmer Cam Flaherty’s Farm-to-Table dinner, releases May 27. That’s all you need to know right now. There will more information about Edith after our chat. I promise.

When did you first know you were going to write professionally?
I’ve been writing professionally since I worked on the student newspaper and wrote for my town newspaper in high school. Then I went on to academic writing, more journalism, and a career writing technical documentation. But I first started writing novel-length fiction twenty years ago, and landed contracts with two different publishers in 2012.

What part of writing do you find most satisfying?
I love writing the first draft, especially when my characters do things I had not planned for them. But I also enjoy the revision process -self editing, crafting, polishing.

What part do you find most difficult?
Plot. It’s always a challenge to reveal just enough about the mystery so I am fair to the reader without giving it all away by page 100.

What comes first for you? Characters? Story? Setting?
Characters and setting. I follow my characters around and write down what they do. And then go back and fix the story so it all works.

Where do you find inspiration?
Everywhere! A snipped of conversation in a restaurant. A news story. Walking in my historic town. Seeing the way a man on the sidewalk is dressed and how he moves.

Are your books based on personal experiences or are they completely fictitious?
The stories are all fictitious. In my Local Foods mysteries, though, I draw on what I learned during the years I was an organic farmer. In my Lauren Rousseau books I use what I know about academia, Quakers, and video editing. In my historic series, the Carriagetown Mysteries, I created a Quaker family who lives in my house in the late 1800s and attends the same Friends Meeting that I do. Also see previous answer!

Do you do a lot of research?
Depending on the book, I might use my own knowledge during the first draft and then go back and check facts. In the historic series, I spend time in the archives of two local libraries, on the internet, and in the Whittier Home Association library checking on things like when electric street lights replaced gas, when the local hospital was built, what working women’s shoes looked like, who John Greeleaf Whittier hung out with, and much more.

Tell us about ‘TIL DIRT DO US PART.
The produce is local – and so is the crime – when long-simmering tensions lead to murder following a festive dinner on Cam Flaherty’s Til Dirt do us Part Coverfarm. It’ll take a sleuth who knows the lay of the land to catch this killer. But no one ever said Cam wasn’t willing to get her hands dirty…
Autumn has descended on Westbury, Massachusetts, but the mood at the Farm-to-Table Dinner in Cam’s newly built barn is unseasonably chilly. Local entrepreneur Irene Burr made a lot of enemies with her plan to buy Westbury’s Old Town Hall and replace it with a textile museum-enough enemies to fill out a list of suspects when the wealthy widow turns up dead on a neighboring farm.
Even an amateur detective like Cam can figure out that one of the resident locavores went loco-at least temporarily-and settled a score with Irene. But which one? With the Fall harvest upon her, Cam must sift through a bushelful of possible killers that includes Irene’s estranged stepson, her disgruntled auto mechanic, and a fellow CSA subscriber who seems suspiciously happy to have the dead woman out of the way. The closer she gets to weeding out the culprit, the more Cam feels like someone is out to cut her harvest short. But to keep her own body out of the compost pile, she’ll have to wrap this case up quickly.

What other projects are in the works?
The second Lauren Rousseau mystery, BLUFFING IS MURDER, will be out from Barking Rain Press the late fall (2014). The Carriagetown Mysteries are not under contract, but the first Book, BREAKING THE SILENCE, is about two-thirds written. I just submitted the third Local Foods mystery, FARMED AND DANGEROUS, and hope Kensington Publishing will renew my contract for more books in the series. And I have another cozy mystery proposal in the work. So many ideas, so little time!

Do you have a schedule for writing or do you squeeze it in when you can?
Now that I’m a full-time fiction writer, I write every morning, because that’s when my creative brain is freshest. I use the afternoons for other writing-related business, like blog interviews and posts, marketing, planning, and so on.

What do you do when you’re not writing?
I garden and cook, I take long brisk walks, and I read mysteries.

Pantster or plotter?
Mostly pantser, although when my editor requires a detailed synopsis of the next book, I plot it out and then more or less follow it.

What refreshes you creatively?
See answer on what I do when I’m not writing!

Thanks, Edith.

And now, as promised, here’s more about our guest:
A fourth-generation Californian, Maxwell has published short stories of murderous revenge, most recently in Best New England Crime Stories 2014: Stone Cold (Level Best Books, 2013) and Fish Nets (Wildside Press, 2013). The Stone Cold story, “Breaking the Silence,” won an Honorable Mention in the Al Blanchard Short Crime Fiction contest.
Edith Maxwell also authored Speaking of Murder (under the pseudonym Tace Baker), which features Quaker linguistics professor Lauren Rousseau and campus intrigue after her sexy star student is killed (Barking Rain Press, 2012). Bluffing is Murder releases in late 2014. Edith holds a long-unused doctorate in linguistics, is a long-time member of Amesbury Friends Meeting, and and is currently writing a historical mystery set in 1888 Amesbury featuring Quaker midwife Rose Carroll, as well as John Greenleaf Whittier.
A mother, world traveler, and former technical writer, Edith lives in an antique house north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs every weekday with the rest of the Wicked Cozy Authors (wickedcozyauthors.com). You can also find her at http://www.edithmaxwell.com, at @edithmaxwell, and on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/EdithMaxwellAuthor.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 5, 2014 11:07 AM

    Sandra, thank you for introducing me to Edith Maxwell. Her work is very much of interest to me–and is available at my local library. Her life outside of writing (“I garden and cook, I take long brisk walks, and I read mysteries”) is similar to my interests, too.

  2. May 6, 2014 8:15 AM

    Hi Susan, Good to see a facebook friend here. I got to meet Edith in person this past weekend and she is just as nice and down-to-earth (logical for a gardener) as she is on line. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. May 6, 2014 11:28 PM

    There must be something about gardening, cooking, walks and being a pantser that appeals to writers! Thank you for the introduction to Edith Maxwell. A writing gardener is okay by me. All the best!

  4. May 7, 2014 7:07 AM

    Gardening, cooking, walks – all good things.You’re right, Leigh, those activities come up again and again in conversations with writers. I wonder if the combination of being engaged in something physical and also having time to think help to make a writer. Kind of a chicken-and-egg thing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. May 7, 2014 7:51 AM

    I’m jumping in to agree with everyone. Not only did I start writing for my high school newspaper, but I also love gardening and am a punster.

    So Kindred Spirits, thanks for gathering.

  6. May 7, 2014 8:07 AM

    And thank YOU for joining us, Kathye, although I can’t honestly say I’m a pantser. I always start with a plan but rarely stick with it. Characters come alive and take me on their journey instead of vice versa. Nevertheless, I need some kind of destination before I can start.

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